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Better Living Through Plastic Explosives Hardcover – April 5, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
As an encouragement, this book gave me a clear understanding of what good short stories should look like. These are stories with tight, concrete sentences and language that highlights Gartner's cynical, yet sarcastic, tone.
However, the most appealing thing about "Better Living" is the characters. These are characters anxious with longing, characters bold enough to get drunk with existentialism and ask, "If we truly have developed from apes, then why do we still pick and prod at this thing called a soul?" and "Why are we doomed to want what we can't have?" and "Just what exactly are we doing here?"
Most of us aren't brave enough to sit down with these questions and talk to them until we're red in the face. But Gartner won't let her characters do that. No, Gartner sits her characters down and shows them, and us, that maybe life isn't about finding answers. Maybe life is about being courageous enough to ask questions, and not let go. Maybe life is a question without an answer, and maybe we feel sad for these characters because their inability to answer their questions reflects our inability to answer our questions, as well.
But at least they're bold enough to ask them, which is something us non-fictioneers are often too afraid, and unwilling, to do.
And for the depression. Well, the depression hits when I realize that I can't write like Zsuzsi Gartner, which, I guess, is okay--for now.
For now, I can just convince myself that I'm not carbon-copying her characters. And hope too, that somehow, she doesn't find out.
Frankly, I liked the work very much...but I did not love it, and I think that is very significant. The stories rewarded me a thousand fold with breathtaking prose, astute social satire, dark humor, and uncommon insight...but I always felt uncomfortable reading it. It made me feel like I was holding and admiring the iridescent scales on a deadly viper.
Perhaps the problem is this: there is not one person I know whom I would encourage to read this book. Doesn't that say a lot? And how do I review a work like that? In my years as a literary reviewer, I've read some weird and wonderful literary gems--almost all with potentially small audiences--but this work is truly remarkable, peerless, and singularly distinctive.
Am I making my point yet? Let me try to imagine for you the type of person who might enjoy this work. That person would probably need to be cosmopolitan (living in a densely populated metropolitan area); brilliant with a first-rate liberal arts education and an advanced degree (no mere average college education would do); a fairly radical liberal (definitely opinionated, perhaps even a closet ecoterrorist); comfortably in touch with elements of the current ongoing academic counterculture; an astute observer of modern culture; and someone who can find joy and humor in looking at the dark side of modern life, i.e.Read more ›
I really wanted to like this book but I just could never quite catch my stride with it. The stories contained here are brief and disjointed in a way that fails to capture one's attention. Viewed in isolation the author is obviously good at their craft but somehow taken as a whole it's hard not to just skim over the words and realize only later that you've been reading for 20 minutes but not consumed anything the author had to say. In fact, the text blows by like a summer breeze and it makes it difficult to even formulate a coherent review. Nothing is more ample evidence of that fact than this rather incoherent bit of feedback.
Perhaps the whole thing would be better consumed in small bits over several days rather than taken all at once. The text is exceptionally tangled and complex so that generally means that one story a day is more in order. Sadly, the bits of this I did manage to catch are not interesting enough to motivate me to pursue that line of evaluation.
Adoption of Chinese females,Slow/Whole/Sustainable Yoga practioner gourmands and the family dynamics
thereof...all are flayed in this witty/literate collection. A bonus inclusion was the second usage of the word "aurochs"
I have ever encountered. That alone makes it worth a read.
At the same time, you can tell Zsuzsi is a talented writer as some of the scenes stuck with me. But all the scenes never added up to much. I put this down about 1/2 way through.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
New and original; these short stories are not like anything that's come before. A dark, funny, frighteningly accurate portrait of suburbia. Beautiful designed book as well.Published 13 months ago by DJ
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. Too many of the stories appear to have no real point, no stimulating use of language, no though-provoking moments. Read morePublished on October 20, 2013 by Jammer
This is one of those books that you may question as to why you are still reading, it is difficult to read nothing is handed to you and some of the violence was more than I like but... Read morePublished on March 29, 2013 by Ruth Kirk
If you love to read stories that involve politically correct people having their lives upended then definitely buy this book!Published on February 26, 2013 by bushwacker
The book arrived on time and was in perfect condition. I guess I just don't care for the author. I read part of the book
and gave up & threw away the book.
This is so funny! What a wonderful collection of short stories and the author really captures some of the real characters of the region.Published on February 22, 2013 by Seattle Jogger
I read this for a book club and found the topics addressed in the stories edgy. It led to an interesting discussion including where on earth was the author coming from! Read morePublished on January 22, 2013 by Nan
This contemporary collection is funny and entertaining as it sends up some of our goofier societal excesses, and is all the more enjoyable for being well-written. Read morePublished on January 21, 2013 by James J. Huberty